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Director: Bretten Hannam (Canada). Year of Release: 2021

A trailer park, somewhere in Canada. A boy is helping another kid, presumably his elder brother, to bleach his hair. The next scene sees the same pair nicking copper piping from the plumbing of a warehouse. They run off with their booty, and jump onto the older kid’s moped. A few false starts, and the moped still won’t start. As a police car arrives, they try to run off on foot. They are not fast enough, and the police catch them both, kicking the older kid unconscious.

Lincoln (known as Link) wakes up in a prison cell, his head wound being tended by an indigenous Mi’kmaw woman. The prison guards send her away, and its not long before an angry man with an unkempt beard turns up outside Link’s cell. The prison guard gives Link over to the man, who is obviously Link’s dad. When they get home, he beats his son, and locks up his moped with a large steel chain.

Link is a troubled individual, his condition being aggravated by his father’s violence and the absence of his Mi’kmaw mother. I think we are to assume that Link has bleached his hair to try and fit more into society and to look more like his blond half-brother Travis than his darker mother. Later in the film, we’ll hear a near perfect description of Link: he’s an angry man, and incredibly sensitive, but also capable of acts of great kindness.

Looking for the keys with which he can unlock his moped, Link barricades himself into his father’s bedroom, opening every available drawer. He doesn’t find the keys, but he does find a collection of greeting cards sent by the mother that his dad had said was long dead. When dad says, “well, she’s dead to me”, that’s the last straw for Link, who leaves with Travis, pausing only to throw petrol and the flame from a cigarette lighter onto dad’s van.

Stopping into a convenience store, Link is accused of shoplifting, and his short fuse results in him causing another scene. The situation is calmed down by Pasmay, a Mi’kmaw, who iss passing through the store. Pasmay buys Travis some sweets and offers them a lift. As they’re 2 days’ walk from the address on the back of the greeting cards, and Travis doesn’t look keen on much walking, they accept. Back on the road, they are pursued by dad, at whom they hurl a carton of Travis’s piss.

Wildhood follows most of the usual conventions of a road movie. The three lads try to catch up with Link’s mother, but each time they think that they have tracked her down, they find that they must move on to a new address. After Pasmay’s truck breaks down, they are forced to walk, hitch hike, and to take help from kindly strangers who offer them words of wisdom. There are also countless scenes of beautiful countryside and naked swimming in freezing lakes.

On a number of occasions, Wildhood does things which are more interesting than what you find in the average road movie. The proliferation of indigenous characters mean that it’s not just the usual parade of middle class white characters, even though there’s a slight tendency to unduly worship Mi’kmaw mysticism. And, as romance blossoms between Pasmay and Link, there is also a gay subtext (well, not subtext really, it’s pretty much the main story).

I think that the strongest part of the film comes on the morning after Pasmav and Link have sex. Link is not sure of his identity at the best of times, and now he looks clearly disorientated. When Pasmay asks him if he’s done that sort of thing before, he answers ambiguously “not like that”, which tells you all that you need to know. Link looks torn between wanting to jump on Pasmay and repeating last night’s activities, and walking away in disgust.

At its best, Wildhood shows Link coming to terms with his flaws and his self-loathing. Unlike Pasmay, who is proud about both his ethnicity and his sexuality, Link is ashamed, at best confused. Lacking Pasmay’s self-confidence he lashes out at anyone who forces him to confront himself. Link’s reaction is not shown as being inevitable – Pasmay was also disowned by his family because of his sexuality, but we see that different people react to such alienation in different ways.

That’s Wildhood at it’s strongest. Unfortunately, I think that the film also has several weaknesses. The film does not contain much jeopardy – as soon as the lads encounter a problem, it is rapidly solved, or at least deferred. Some of the information that they acquire on how to track down Link’s mother relies on lucky guesses and coincidence, and they never seem to go down any blind allies. We never have a feeling that they won’t find what they’re looking for.

Finally, there is a sense of sentimentality, as only befits a film which has both a cute(-ish) kid and a worldview which, just like EastEnders, sees the solution to most of our problems in Famly. Of course, Pasmay is there as a counter-example to show that supportive families sometimes just aren’t out there, but this is seen as being an unfortunate circumstance, and not as evidence that maybe there are other solutions are out there.

But now we’re getting into minor quibbles. The main arguments for Wildhood’s defence are its diversity and characters who are generall<y interesting. The case against is that it’s a bit repetitive and by the end, it all starts to drag. I found the film ok. I’m not going to recommend that anyone must see it, but nor will I tell them that they have to stay away. Can I get off that fence now?

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